Martinsville: Jimmy Johnson interview

Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript Tuesday, April 1, 2003 Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Virginia 500 at Martinsville ...

Jimmie Johnson Teleconference Transcript
Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet discusses his 2003 season and outlook for the upcoming Virginia 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Johnson improved to fourth overall in the NASCAR Winston Cup points standings (220 points behind the leader) following his 15th-place finish Sunday in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson has ranked among the top-10 in the Winston Cup points standings for 41 consecutive races, dating back to the 2002 spring race in Atlanta. Johnson has competed in two races at Martinsville, finishing 35th in the 2002 spring race and sixth in the 2002 fall race.

HAVE YOU SEEN A REPLAY OF DALE JR'S PASS AT TALLADEGA AND IF SO, DID IT CHANGE YOUR MIND ABOUT NASCAR'S CALL? "I haven't seen a replay. We left the track and we've been gone and I have not seen it yet. There's been a lot of discussion and talk about it, but I haven't seen any statements released by NASCAR or anyone involved. So, I don't know."

WHAT'S YOUR DEFINITION OF A 'COMPLETED PASS'? "That's what has been the hard thing to understand. If you're forced below the yellow line, you just need to clear yourself and recheck yourself and roll out of the gas and let that car move back past you and you can start all over again. All you've got to do is clear yourself of that car you're trying to pass. That's the way I look at it. If I'm forced down below, I'm not going to take the risk to be penalized because it's such a severe penalty on a superspeedway. So, that's kind of the impression amongst most of the drivers in the garage."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE MATT KENSETH FORCED DALE JR. DOWN THERE OR DID IT LOOK LIKE KENSETH WAS PRETTY MUCH HOLDING HIS LINE? "When going down the backstretch, you're always moving around a little bit trying to keep the guys behind you in line. It was a surprise to me when we got to Turn 3 to see three of us down there. I was so busy looking in my mirror as well to make sure I didn't have somebody trying to get around me on the outside, that just out of the corner of my eye I saw the No. 8 car (Dale Jr.) come into the picture and then you know we all went up the race track."

WHEN YOU WERE RACING OFF-ROAD, DID YOU EXPERIENCE SIMILAR JUDGMENT CALLS THAT NASCAR MAKES? "Yeah, I think it's common in any form of motorsports. You've got - in a sense - a referee trying to call a race or call a play. We've got such great access to video and replay and all that, we go through it and pick it apart. In other sports, they don't really mess with it and once the play starts, its really over and done. It's something I've experienced in every form of racing."

AS THE SEASON PROGRESSES AND THE TEMPERATURES RISE, HOW DO YOU MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY DEAL WITH THE HEAT DURING A RACE? "It's something you get used to over time. Being in the race car is probably the best training for it. But I'll work really hard on hydration each week before the event and make sure I'm eating the right things. I'll use some training (like) mountain biking or jogging in the middle of the summer to make myself used to it and aware of it to keep my brain working in heat. It's more of what you learn over time than anything else."

WHEN YOU RACE UP FRONT BUT DON'T GET THAT WIN, DOES THAT RESONATE IN YOUR EMOTIONS THE NEXT WEEK? "Well, you can look at it in a couple of ways. Of course you wish that you'd won the race and just ran up there and competed for it. But we could have been running 35th all day long and not even have a taste of winning the race. So, you always have a complaint if you don't win.")

DO YOU EVER WONDER IF THERE COMES A POINT WHEN THEY HAVE TO DO SOMETHING TO MAKE THE SERIES MORE LEGITIMATE SO THESE JUDGMENT CALLS DON'T COME INTO PLAY AND THAT THERE IS A BLACK & WHITE WAY OF DEALING WITH THEM? "I don't think the sport lends itself to it - especially on certain situations at certain tracks where it wouldn't be fair to everyone. It would really change everything around. But there are gray areas in any sport. There are times when referees make bad calls, and that's what this really reminds us of. I've not seen the video, so I'm not saying it's a bad call. But you see this in other sports. It happens. It's just hard to really say."

WHEN A CALL WOULD GO AGAINST YOU OR AGAINST SOMEBODY ELSE, HOW DO YOU PROCESS THAT IN YOUR OWN MIND? "We all voice our opinions and go talk to the officials. But from my standpoint, I know if I go below that yellow line, I'm getting a black flag. So I don't even mess with it. If it does happen, I'm checking myself. That's just what I know I need to do. I got busted on it once before. In a sense, the exposure it is receiving and the hype from the fans and media, hopefully it'll take care of itself and there will be a system formulated because of it."

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE LAST THREE LAPS AT TALLADEGA FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE AND WHAT YOU THOUGHT THE OTHER DRIVERS WERE GOING TO DO? "Well, the last three laps I was going backwards. On lap 4 (to go) I was sitting at the head of the field and was looking pretty good. But when Dale Jr. came across the apron, he filled Matt Kenseth's spot - had the inside lane behind him then. Matt was forced into my spot, so he had my lane. I was in the third lane with no one behind me. I dropped like a rock at that point. So I was just trying to find a way back in line and try to fall into a hole. I tried squeezing into a hole and I believe it was Kenny Wallace I was trying to squeeze down in front of. The room wasn't there. I came across his nose and spun myself out. Luckily I didn't collect anybody else."

IF EVERYTHING WOULD HAVE GONE ACCORDING TO PLAN, WOULD IT BE A FAIR ASSESSMENT TO SAY YOU WOULD HAVE PROBABLY FINISHED NO WORSE THAN 5th?) "I thought we really had a shot at winning the race. When we shuffled out, when (Dale) Jr. made his pass and had me in the third lane and there was no one there, realistically if I could have gotten in line I think I would have finished somewhere in the top 10. I was going backwards and we had so few laps left, it looked like there was a pretty well formed lane on the inside. I don't think I would have had a shot to be in the top 5 at that point."

DO YOU UNDERSTAND NASCAR'S APPROACH TO THIS RULE ABOUT GOING BELOW THE YELLOW LINE, OR IS IT STILL SORT OF MURKY? "It's murky in a sense. I was told that you're supposed to take that yellow line like it's a wall. You do not go below it. But NASCAR will also look to see if you're forced down there. If you're forced out of bounds, then they will penalize the person who forced you out of bounds. But being that no one received a penalty anywhere, that's where I'm confused. Somewhere, someone was supposed to receive a penalty if you go out of bounds or if you're forced out. That's the way I understand it. That's where my confusion is."

ON KEVIN HARVICK AS A COMPETITOR AND A DRIVER? "I've been able to know Kevin for a few years here - I met him at Ron Hornaday's house (while) sharing a couch so to say. He's a California guy that came in and did an awesome job in the Busch Series. I was able to get to know him more there and was able to race with him. He's also a guy that's given me advice about what to expect in Winston Cup both on and off the race track. He had such an incredible year in his rookie season that he was able to give me some pointers and help me out. So he's been somebody I can go to on different topics for quite a few years."

HOW DOES A DRIVER LEARN TO KEEP HIS EMOTIONS IN CHECK? "In a lot of ways, everyone's own personality and style had gotten them to where they are today. Everyone who is in Winston Cup deserves to be there. What they've had has worked to get them there. Everything is just so magnified in Winston Cup that things can kind of be taken the wrong way and a snowball effects starts building and wearing on you. It can possibly look worse and worse and worse, and before you know it you've got someone there that's out of control. I know last year was hard for Kevin by being suspended from Martinsville and all that stuff leading up to it. But Kevin wants to be in the sport and this year, he's making a huge effort to try and maintain his emotions a lot better and he's done a great job with it."

HAVE YOU SEEN MUCH OF A PERSONALITY CHANGE IN HIM FROM BUSCH TO CUP?) "I haven't noticed a difference. He's the same Harvick that I met back there on Hornaday's couch."

DO YOU THINK THE CALL NASCAR MADE ABOUT GOING BELOW THE YELLOW LINE HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE FACT THAT THE DRIVER WAS DALE EARNARDT JR? "I would find that hard to believe. NASCAR really isn't scared of anyone. They've stepped up in a variety of different ways in making calls and judgments on people that you wouldn't think would happen. So I don't think that was the case. I haven't seen the video, but if he was wrong would just feel and hope that NASCAR would do what they needed to do like they've done in the past."

HAVE YOU TALKED TO JEFF GORDON AND RICK HENDRICK THIS WEEK ABOUT WORKING WITH EACH OTHER? "We tried. We just always seemed to be in different lanes. It just never worked out. Once we got close to each other, we were in different lanes. We did work together the best we can. At the end, we had all four Hendrick cars nose to tail. I just was real lucky to be up front and stay up front. When you're the leader, you've got to defend that and block - regardless of what lane is coming and where you're teammate might be. You've got to get in front of that head of the line that's coming and let that keep you up front. That's why I was able to stay up front for so long. Jeff and I have discussed this many times. He's the one, initially; when I didn't have a lot of experience, I told Jeff I just wanted to follow him. I figured that would ensure me a second place finish. But it doesn't work that way. It is really hard to work together all day long. Michael (Waltrip) and Jr. have been able to do it. It's been amazing to everyone. It looks so simple and easy, but it's not that easy. Those guys have been able to do it, and I don't know how. If it were that easy, all five Roush cars would just team up and beat us. There's one more than anyone else has. It's just a really hard thing to do."

WAS TALLADEGA YOUR MOST AGGRESSIVE RACE AND WHY WAS EVERYONE SO AGGRESSIVE? "That's just speedway racing. I didn't think we were too aggressive out there but with the bumping that's going on...... You know, if you can get inside that pocket, and get to somebody's bumper and push them, you pick them up so much speed you shoot them out in front of you like a cannon. That's kind of the whole premise of things in bump-drafting. You saw it come into effect a lot - just trying to push the guy out in front of you and get your lane moving."

WHEN YOU HAD ALL THE HENDRICK CARS LINED UP, WOULD IT HAVE BETTER TO HAVE THEM TWO-BY-TWO, SIDE-BY-SIDE? "That would have ensured us probably a one through three, or one through four finish. Being in a single file lane like that is tough to do. If we were two-by-two, it probably would have worked out for the team a little better."

WAS IT TOO HARD TO MANEUVER INTO THAT FORMATION AT THAT POINT IN THE RACE? "When you're the leader, you've got to look and block wherever the run is coming from. The guys behind you are following you wherever you go. When you see a run coming in your mirror and you've got to move to the inside to block it, 90% of the time they've gotten inside of one of those guys behind you that's trying to work with you. And now, he's in the middle and hung out. We tried to work together as a team. I was having my spotter call calls that involved all three cars so that we could move as a group together and try to stay together. If you work independently, which you need to do most of the time, you're teammates aren't going to get any help. That's why when Dale Jr. and Michael Waltrip work so well together. They work as one big car and block things that are coming and keep each other from getting in trouble or hung out."


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Kenny Wallace , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Jimmie Johnson